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Lord Inglewood: My Lords, I do not want now to cover all the ground that I covered in responding to the noble Lord in Committee. I repeat that the Government take this issue extremely seriously and fully acknowledge the importance of the services described in the amendment to people with a sensory disability. I should also like to say how grateful I am to the noble Lord, Lord Ashley, for the helpful meeting that he arranged with representatives of some of those suffering from disabilities.
I apologise to the House for the fact that we have not yet managed to bring forward the amendments in this area which I agreed in principle to accept at Committee. I refer to the amendments requiring the ITC to consult representatives of those with sensory disabilities before publishing its code on provision for those people and to publish the code in accessible forms. I intend to bring those forward at Third Reading, with the House's permission.
We want to ensure that the maximum amount of subtitling, signing and audio-description is provided compatible with the investment needed to launch digital terrestrial television and make it a success. But we must also bear in mind that other relevant legislation has also recently been passed. I may disappoint the noble Lord, but I should like to refer to the Disability Discrimination Act of last year, which in Section 21 states:
Of course, the crux of the matter is how we define "reasonable". The Disability Discrimination Act does not attempt to do that on the face of the Act, but provides for detailed provisions to be drawn up. After all, "reasonable" will mean different things in different circumstances. And what is reasonable can change over time. For example, a technological improvement making an auxiliary aid or service cheaper to provide may make
I acknowledge that the code represents a different approach from that adopted in the 1990 Act, which, as I said, predates the Disability Discrimination Act, for subtitling by existing analogue broadcasters. As the noble Lord explained, the 1990 Act sets down progressively increasing minimum requirements for commercial broadcasters, and those are also reflected in the BBC Charter and Agreement. But we were dealing then with a set of circumstances considerably clearer and less uncertain than our current vision of the digital future.
I should like to set out the main differences. I do so shortly, bearing in mind the time of evening. First, in 1990 the four existing analogue channels had established audiences and revenue flows. The audience for digital terrestrial will initially be close to nil. Secondly, they had large programme budgets. Thirdly, those existing broadcasters were using an existing transmission network and broadcasting to sets that already existed. Fourthly--and it is an important point--the existing analogue broadcasters all provide heterogeneous services which include comedy, films, drama, sport, news, and current affairs and, even more importantly, those which include a mixture of live unscripted, live scripted and pre-recorded programmes. The increase in the number of programme services permitted by digital technology will mean that many new broadcasters are likely to provide specialist services, just as cable and satellite broadcasters do.
The effect of that is that, depending on the nature of the programme broadcast, the costs of doing the relevant subtitling--if I may so describe it in shorthand--will vary considerably. For example, some programmes might cost as little as £200 an hour, whereas others, involving unscripted live performances might be up towards £2,000 an hour. We are concerned that the nature of the programmes offered will have a very big impact on the nature and cost of the type of subtitling, and so on, which will be appropriate. Against that background, there will be problems of what is reasonable for a particular broadcaster. If the
I appreciate that much of what I said will be felt by the noble Lord as offering little comfort. But I should like to make some suggestions which I hope will convince your Lordships that the Government have taken full account of the points raised and, having done so, are prepared to make sensible alterations to their position without compromising the principles that I set out in my earlier remarks and promising things which, quite honestly, cannot reasonably be delivered by broadcasters.
As I said in Committee, broadcasters will act in their own interests to provide as extensive a service as they can for disabled people. This Government believe that regulation for its own sake should not be imposed. But I recognise that that cannot be guaranteed. We might need to look again, once the market is up and running, at the status of the code. If some broadcasters, after a reasonable time, do not comply, it might be appropriate to take steps to enforce compliance. But we believe that the position from which we start should be that we should not place figures on the face of the Bill. We believe that that would be both inflexible and unfair. Rather, we believe that the code is the right delivery mechanism (if I may use a television analogy), which will allow the industry the flexibility to adjust requirements on provision for disabled people both in the light of the development of the market as a whole and the differences in the situation of broadcasters within that market.
That is in line with the principles of the Disability Discrimination Act. Therefore, it is a solution that we continue to support. We believe that it is the right way to deal with this particular important problem, in the context of the very differing abilities of new broadcasters to deliver, at the same time bearing in mind the significant differences in the products that those new broadcasters will place on the market.
Lord Ashley of Stoke: My Lords, I must not detain the House. I know that people are waiting to get on to other business. But perhaps the House may hear a very brief response to some of the points raised by the Minister.
The fact that the new companies begin from a low base means nothing whatever. If they are unable to make provision for deaf people and blind people, they should not be in business. The BBC and ITV have incurred the expense of subtitles and icons of audio description. Therefore, with digital television, they should do likewise.
The nature of the programmes and the nature of the subtitling is irrelevant. If a programme is on TV, it should be subtitled. If it is not subtitled, deaf people cannot follow. There is no point arguing about the lack
The Minister says that it is in the interests of the programme companies to provide the service; that is not the case. History proves that it is only because of the provisions of the 1990 Act that subtitling was brought forward--admittedly, the BBC is the exception--and the programme companies only maintain the targets laid down in the 1990 Act. That is why we want targets on the face of the Bill.
The Minister says that we should wait until the programmes are up and running. That is the wrong way to go about it. It is like tagging an out-house on to the main building of a house; it is an oddity. It is far better to build as one goes along. The subtitling and the audio description can be integrated.
The Minister says that there should be no target. That is quite wrong. The target is crucial. We are leaning over backwards; we are saying five years, eight years and 10 years. We are giving more than adequate notice. When the Minister considers the rights of the programme contractors I beg him to bear in mind the rights of deaf people and blind people to follow television. Those are basic fundamental rights and they go by the board unless targets are laid down in a Bill passed by both Houses of Parliament. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.